Adam Nagourney, a journalist for the New York Times, is concerned about the extent to which the issue of race is proving to be a factor in the 2008 Campaign for President. Concerning the contest for the Democratic nomination, he observes, "The composition of Mrs. Clinton's support -- or, looked at another way, the makeup of voters who have proved reluctant to embrace Mr. Obama -- has Democrats wondering, if not worrying, about what role race may be playing." Senator Clinton was accused by many of whipping out the infamous "race card" when she noted that recent polls show Senator Obama with only limited support among white, blue collar voters. Concerns about race have, as one might suspect, been amplified by those on the far left. Boyce Watkins for example, a University of Syracuse finance professor, has compared recent criticism of Michelle Obama's ridiculously myopic statements about belated pride in her country to invidious rhetoric responsible for the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
All this is an interesting turn of events and one we need to examine. Why a large proportion of white voters do not support Senator Obama is open to interpretation. It may be that they regard him, the particular man he is, as a cultural elitist, whose statements in San Francisco regarding Pennsylvanians were not only condescending, but also indicative of political and social values markedly at odds with their own. Or could it be that these voters think of Obama as similar to a black George McGovern, one who is simply not, given the climate of national and international politics, un homme sérieux, or a man to be taken seriously? Indeed, white aversion to him could likewise be attributable to the outrageous victimization complex that has shaped some of the public statements of Jeremiah Wright and Michelle Obama, two individuals intimately associated with the Senator. There are other interpretations as well of the "white flight from Obama" phenomenon that have little or nothing to do with race.
Let me emphasize that none of these misgivings about Barack Obama is outlandish. While they may or may not prove to be founded in fact, discussing them is still reasonable and makes sense. I dare say that most Americans want a President who they feel can relate to them as human beings, is politically tough-minded, and will foster close relations with those whose views are thoughtful and meritorious. What, pray tell me, is wrong-headed about this goal?
Playing the so-called "race card" has become a way to chill meaningful discourse in this country. The intellectually sterile atmosphere of "political correctness" is, unfortunately, one of its byproducts. Those in academic life have long observed this deleterious trend, and it is now making insidious inroads into other segments of the body politic. Hucksters like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Boyce Watkins are being allowed to frame the issues that citizens discuss. How ingenious they are to obstruct the deliberative democratic process by attempting to ban the expression of ideas that happen to be in opposition to their own. Being called a racist by one of these idiots should be worn as a badge of honor. For them, the term "racism" is but a bludgeon by which to shame and to discount others without engaging them in discourse. It is a means of shouting down the opposition. It is another way of screaming "Shut up!"
As a student I once sat in a study group with Professor James Cone, one of the leading proponents of so-called "black liberation theology," a man whose thought has influenced the pathological rants of Jeremiah Wright and others. This was the scenario:a distinguished professor had just delivered a paper on the thought of John Dewey, whose ideas shaped contemporary American education and culture perhaps more than those of any other single individual. Cone expressed indignance that Dewey's thought would be a subject of discussion among us, since this iconic philosopher was not known to have helped relieve the scourge of black oppression in America. So how dare Dewey's philosophy be analyzed and discussed! The distinguished professor who had delivered the paper bit his lip and scarcely replied. Neither did his students, who also feared being branded racists.
This sad event took place over thirty years ago, but the same fascist games are still being played in our midst. One wonders how much longer the American people will tolerate this subversion of intellect and culture, not to say our political system itself. I happen to agree with Senator Obama: the time has come for a "change" in America. The first step is to banish political correctness from our patterns of thought and modes of communication. Who knows what will transpire if that happens – somebody in an American university might actually formulate a novel idea, and some federal elected official might begin to act like a genuine statesman.
May 16, 2008